A lack of awareness of the water retail market among small businesses has prevented many from shopping around for a better deal, the water watchdog has suggested.

The latest research from the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) found that a dearth of information on switching options has resulted in just two out of five SMEs thinking they can change provider.

CCWater began tracking customer views three months after the market opened up in April 2017 and the figures suggest awareness of the market has remained static. They are largely unchanged from its previous survey.

As well as switching provider, business customers can also try to negotiate a better deal with their existing supplier. But the research found only 29 per cent of SMEs considered this a possibility.

However, there are signs that once an SME becomes aware of the opened market it is more inclined to “explore its options”. About half of “market aware” smaller businesses have looked for more information, CCWater found.

Larger businesses remain more active in exploring their choices with medium-sized businesses (50-249 employees) around twice as likely as micro businesses (fewer than ten employees) to have looked for market information, switched or negotiated a better deal.

In response to the latest research a spokesperson for market operator MOSL said: “It is evident that more needs to be done to increase SME awareness, so that more customers can realise savings and efficiencies in switching or renegotiating with their existing suppliers.

“We will continue to work with retailers and wholesalers to make sure customers are able to enjoy the full benefits of this market.”

Meanwhile an Ofwat spokesperson said:“It is essential to address these market frictions as soon as possible so retailers, brokers and customers can engage easily and efficiently.

“We are working closely alongside other water industry bodies to look for solutions in order to get the market working to its full potential.”

Mike Keil, head of policy and research at CCWater, said: “Small businesses have not been empowered with the knowledge and tools they need to punish poor service and enjoy the potential benefits of switching or renegotiating.

“Many SMEs feel they are being overlooked by retailers and unless that perception changes, customers will continue to miss out.”

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